Toward the front of the house, Alabama offensive linemen Ross Pierschbacher and Matt Womack tag team siding nibblers while tight end Hale Hentges triple checks their measurements.
A little further back on the side, defensive lineman Raekwon Davis labors alongside his offensive counterpart, Lester Cotton, and linebacker Jamey Mosley with a circular saw to cut then transport wood.
Head coach Nick Saban is in the backyard – not afraid to get his boat shoes and slacks dirty – directing and helping some more of his players. Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs digs with a shovel, creating holes for wooden stakes, while linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller carry over materials with quarterback Jalen Hurts.
“So proud of our players for taking their Saturday to come out here and work with us,” Saban’s wife, Terry, said. “It’s not just the hours they’re putting in. It’s not just the sweat equity. It’s more that they’re a role model for the community and a role model for other young people to come out here and do the same thing.”
They’re at a Habitat for Humanity construction site on Juanita Drive. The whole team is volunteering, split between a morning and afternoon shift, and the specific property they’re working on is the 17th national championship house, which broke ground 24 days after Alabama defeated Georgia in Atlanta.
“To me,” Terry said, “this is the gold trophy.”
A deal was made almost seven years ago, soon after an EF-4 tornado tore through Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011. The Sabans, with their Nick’s Kids Foundation, wanted to fill empty lots left behind by the destruction. So through donations, they promised a new Habitat house for every national title Alabama wins.
That included the previous 13 all at once.
“We are so grateful they have chosen to partner with us and that we’ve been able to change 17 families’ lives,” Habitat executive director Ellen Potts said. “It’s because of their generosity and because of the work our wonderful players since 1925. Truly a blessing.”
To choose a family, Habitat looks at an applicant’s income, credit and criminal background. A committee of community leaders then talks to the applicants and narrow the field even more before Potts and the office staff pick one.
For any Nick’s Kids house, the recipient also has to have a child.
On Jan. 25, Potts called Donna Smith with news her family was chosen to be a Habitat homeowner.
“Just a house in general was absolutely wonderful, but then to find out it was the 17th house, it’s just surreal,” Smith said. “I keep pinching myself when I’m here. It just doesn’t seem real yet.”
Smith has two children: Andrew, 19, and Megan, 20.
Andrew was born with spina bifida, which is a neural tube defect where the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. In Andrew’s case, the disconnect led to paralysis.
Habitat is making its first-ever fully handicap house, featuring three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
“He’s got limitations, but this is going to open up a whole new level of independence for him,” Donna said. “They added a door in his room, so he will have access to the backyard. He has a skilled companion dog, so they’re going to be able to come out and play. That’s going to be huge for him.”
The Smiths are also huge Alabama fans, so to see the team build their house was, as Donna put it, “really cool.”
Personally thanking each player, Donna kept saying how grateful she is because she knows they all have other important things to do on a Saturday.
“This matters, too,” Hurts told Donna.
And with that, the Crimson Tide continued to work.
Overseeing it all was construction manager Brandon Kasteler, who has done Habitat for 20 years and came to Tuscaloosa following the 2011 tornado. He taught the players everything they needed to know throughout the day, especially when it came to safety.
“I said to my wife this morning, ‘I don’t want to be the guy who causes an injury,’” Kasteler said. “You know what I mean? I don’t want to be like that baseball fan who reached out to catch the fly ball. People would be sending me threats.”
“It’s fantastic,” Kasteler said. “It’s Nick’s Kids, Coach (Saban) and Terry, but the players really made this possible.”
Habitat is a nonprofit organization. It runs on volunteers. This will be Habitat’s 71st house overall.
Dedication is scheduled for May 3.
“It’s like an indirect goal: We win all these games and get the national championship that we have and at the end of it, we’re building a house for a family in need,” Hurts said. “It’s like all the hard work we put in on the field comes to show in a house for a family.”
One that will soon turn into a home.
“I told the guys – the players – this morning that there’s very little we do and the decisions we make that don’t have long-term rewards or consequences,” Donna said. “This is a long-term reward from the football team.”